You know what the rains are like here. We get swept away and washed off of all our sins every season. Then we roll right out of bed, grab black umbrellas left behind by our grandfathers, go back to work and dream of khichdi.
Khichdi with fried aubergines and cubes of potatoes coated in a poppy-seed crumb, crispy fried of course, and a large dollop of ghee on top for good measure. Khichdi, like this, or with flaked fish British-style, is something I will cook forever. I have done my research online trying to find poetry or pretty prose that might have been written on khichdi, but I have been unsuccessful so far. With fried hilsa fish, with popadoms and mango chutney or with an omelette on top. It is not a head-turner in any sense. It is not something you’d find in QP LDN’s menu for sure. But let’s be real here. As much as I enjoyed QP LDN’s food last summer, I did walk out of there still feeling a little hungry (and lighter in the pockets) and ended up gorging on a quarter-pounder form Burger King. That should tell you a lot about how we eat. And more importantly, what we eat.
A man I had dated for a very short while, had studied my Instagram feed very carefully. He said, “You really love food, don’t you..”
I do. But he wasn’t really asking a question, it was more of a self-assured whisper under his own breath, as if he was looking for clues to help him decide what to give me as a birthday gift. He then proceeded to observe, “You eat fancy!”
He didn’t last till my birthday, but I still think of that conversation.
The truth is that we don’t eat fancy at all. We eat out. We visit our favorite Indo-Chinese establishments or stroll to the neighborhood burger place that has, in recent times, turned magnificent. We get biryanis home-delivered. But those meals, although scrumptious enough to swear by, are hardly ever the kind of fancy you would want the world to be envious about. Good food. Great food, even. But not fancy food.
Most of our meals are home-made. Cooked or slurried together due to lack of time. A mutton curry, the recipe of which was handed down to my mother by her mother, with fluffy white rice. A homemade vanilla cake my colleague baked for Christmas, that we had with coffee. I found myself with some cooked pork sausages yesterday. I threw them in a bowl with a 6-minute egg, day old lettuce that already had a few brown edges, and dollops of mayonnaise. I then called it a sausage salad. That’s my daily level of fancy-ness. It may be comfortable, mediocre or cherished. But it is what it is.
We took a whirlwind tour of Bangkok, Singapore and Bali. I travel to eat — for the most part — and I was not disappointed. Big bowlfuls of kuay chap, rolled noodles with crispy pork, hokkien mee, unctuous plates of Hainanese chicken rice, nasi goreng, barbecued pork ribs, piles of seafood by the beach and cups of robust Luwak coffee with sweet coconut milk. Nothing plated, ready for Instagram. But everything made to fill an insatiable appetite for good food.
We returned to a rain-drenched waterlogged city. And within 24 hours of arrival, I was craving khichdi. A steaming plate of gooey rice and dal, to warm you up in the chill of monsoon. So we had khichdi for lunch. And a quiche for dinner.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, She talks about eating un-fancy and then goes and serves up a quiche! But a quiche is right up there with khichdi, believe you me. It’s pie-crust, egg custard and filling. And there is not much that you can screw up. If making pastry makes you nervous, just get a crust from the shops. The custard is a mixture without all of the fiddly bits that go into making an anglaise. And then you have the filling, either cooked or raw, based on what you choose. A quiche is one of those dishes that you can load and dress up for a party. Or you can choose to have it for dinner at home. A quiet and good meal. After all the bright loveliness of Instagrammed food shots and the silkiness of a quenelled mousse — khichdi, chicken rice, mushroom quiche…is what we eat.
Chicken and Mushroom Quiche
I don’t have a record of producing ground-breaking quiches. But I had once made a chicken and cheese bake in a disposable aluminum tray, that had gotten high praises at an end-of-semester student-professor lunch. So, listen up.
Feel free to get a store-bought savory pie crust. If you’re not quick or confident at making pie-crusts, it makes no sense to labor away and experiment with them for a simple dinner. Let’s be honest here — pastry can smell fear. If you have a good shortcrust pastry recipe use that. If not, I love Rachel Allen’s pie crust recipe.
Note the cheese — choose something you like to eat a lot of. A light cheddar or a matured one, sharp and violently orange. The next time I’m making this, I would definitely want to use something hard, either Pecorino or Parmesan. The recipe also uses cooked chicken. Preferably dark meat. If you have leftovers from a roast, that’s best. Or poach a chicken with salt and black peppercorns, strain off the water and fork the meat of the bones.
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
Shredded meat from 1 chicken thigh and drumstick
1 cup of sliced button mushrooms
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup double cream
3/4 cup grated white cheddar
A pinch of grated nutmeg (powdered)
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Freshly chopped coriander leaves or parsley leaves (optional)
8-9 inch diameter shortcrust pastry shell
Pre-heat the oven to 180 deg C.
Heat oil and butter in a pan. Add the minced garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minutes, just to remove the pungency. Add the cooked chicken and mushrooms. Cover and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, till the mushrooms soften a bit. Add fresh thyme leaves, Worcestershire sauce, salt and freshly ground pepper. Do a taste test. Adjust the salt and pepper, if needed. take the mixture off heat and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine milk, cream, nutmeg and eggs and whisk well till the mixture is smooth.
Tip the chicken-mushroom mixture into the tart shell and spread evenly. Pour the milk mixture carefully over. Sprinkle cheese evenly on top. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes, till the custard is set. It takes a little more (about 40 minutes) in my oven. So check with your oven temperatures. Garnish the quiche with coriander and serve.